Isha-Sadhguru Controversies: Elephant Corridor Investigation & Report

There’s been some controversial remarks in some websites about Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and the Isha Foundation and Isha Yoga Center that he founded. The allegations and news stories claim that the Isha Foundation and Isha Yoga Center have occupied forest lands and taken over parts of an elephant corridor.

I have read other such “controversy-stories” about Jaggi Vasudev as well, and so was interested in looking into these matters further. You can find a full list of those investigations here. I have read Sadhguru’s articles and watched his videos, and was generally very impressed by his thoughts and perspectives. His talk at the United Nations, New York on International Yoga Day 2016 was something I found especially interesting, since he offered a plan to make yoga India’s first truly global export in the 21st Century.

The Source of Controversy

So, after coming across these controversial comments about encroachments on forest land and occupying elephant corridors, I decided to investigate whether there was any truth in the matter, or whether it was disgruntled, vested interests blowing off some steam. It is quite well-known that Jaggi Vasudev is no fan of paid religious conversions, and neither has he been very complimentary about the previous Congress government and Sonia Gandhi brigade. So I wanted to investigate whether there was a chance that these elements were seeding false accusations.

What is an Elephant Corridor?

First, let us clarify what an Elephant Corridor actually is. This is very well defined in a Wildlife Trust of India report, “Right of Passage”, by a panel of highly regarded environmentalists. The pdf is available here.

The relevant material starts at page 24. Corridors are “meant to increase landscape connectivity by facilitating movement of organisms between habitat fragments and thus minimize the risk of inbreeding and extinction…” However, any patch of land that connects to habitats is not considered a corridor. The word corridor by definition, and the Elephant Corridors in particular, are narrow strips of land that connect to areas of importance to elephants.

The report above explicitly states, “there was lack of clarity even in the definition of an elephant corridor. This has led to the misinterpretation
of elephant habitats as elephant corridors.” So the rules and regulations pertaining to elephant corridors apply only to these narrow strips of land, and not to a general area or region. This also means that elephant corridors are not areas within which an elephant spends a considerable part of its life. They are transit passages for elephants to pass from one area to another during migration, mating times etc.

Elephant Corridors in Coimbatore

The Isha Yoga Center falls within the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu state. Currently, the Forest Department has NOT created any Elephant Corridor in this district. This was a big surprise for me considering the hue and cry the allegations make about the usurping of Elephant Corridor! One can place an RTI request with the Department of Environment, Tamil Nadu and ascertain this for themselves. The Tamil Nadu forest department has created an elephant corridor in 2011 in the Nilgiris district that adjoins the Coimbatore district. This is nowhere near the Isha Yoga Center.

The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) – the non-governmental body that produced the report I mentioned above – in 2005 had identified 88 potential strips that could serve as Elephant Corridors within India, of which two are in Coimbatore district. One is the Kallar corridor and the other is the Anaikatty corridor. Details of both of these follow.

Recommended Kallar Corridor location: Geographical Coordinates: Latitude 11°20’–11°21′ N, Longitude 76°51’–76°53′ E. Length: 7 km Width: 0.5–3 km
The Kallar corridor is a narrow strip starting at Gandhapallayam (near Jackkanare) which bisects the Mettupalayam- Kottagiri highway. The habitat here is contiguous with the Pillur Reserve Forest. The corridor is narrow with the steep slopes of the Nilgiri Hills on the east and an expansion of cultivation on the west. The corridor links the Satyamangalam and Nilgiri North Division with the Coimbatore Division and facilitates the movements of elephants further into Mannarghat Forest Division of Kerala.

Recommended Anaikatty Corridor location: Geographical Coordinates: Latitude 11°07′ N, Longitude 76°46′ E. Length: 1.5 km Width: 0.5 km

The corridor connects the Boolavampatti Reserve Forest and the Attapadi forest of Coimbatore Forest Division. Large scale human settlements and encroachment have slowly reduced forest availability and impeded elephant movement.

Of these two corridors, only the Anaikatty one is of interest in this situation.

The Allegation: Isha Yoga Center in an Elephant Corridor?

The map below is from the above mentioned WTI report. It is available on page 247. In the map, you cannot see the Isha Yoga Center because it is out of the boundaries, below the bottom border. You can get an idea of the general region and compare it to the Google Map below if you wish. The line with double-headed arrow in the image shows the WTI’s proposed corridor. The proposal recommends a corridor length of 1.5 kms and widtyh of 0.5 kms.

The distance between the Yoga Center and Anaikatty, which is about midway in the corridor is 14.5 kilometers as the crow flies. By road it is about 45 kilometers. The google map below the image shows the distance by road. For some reason, the straight-line distance doesn’t embed in the map. Please measure it on the map. It’s worth pointing out that even when we consider the 1.5 km length of the Elephant Corridor strip, the Isha Yoga Center does not fall within the elephant corridor limits and is a good 13.5 kms from it as the crow flies.

Map of Isha Yoga Center & Elephant Corridors

Map showing the proposed corridor. Isha Yoga Center is outside the boundaries of this map, about 14 kms away.
Map showing the proposed corridor. Isha Yoga Center is outside the boundaries of this map, about 14 kms away.

Sadhguru-Elephant Corridor Controversy – Conclusion

To be quite frank, it took a lot of work for me to investigate this matter. This is primarily because it is difficult to get any clarity on whether the forest department has created any Elephant Corridors, if it is planning to create more, and if so where these Elephant Corridors will lie! There does not seem to be anyway to access any Dept of Environment’s reports about proposed elephant corridors from a search utility on its website. The only option is to go for a physical RTI. The Tamil Nadu government, unlike the Central agencies, does not have an online RTI application option. Nor is there any indication in any news about the availability of a map demarcating these proposed corridors. Only the WTI report carries any information about the corridor proposals, and some news has been available about the Nilgiris district corridor.

Besides the RTI, probably the only other straightforward way for you to get access to these maps would be to go physically to the the Forest Dept Headquarters in Coimbatore and ask for a copy. I did not try this, and so cannot say whether the officials concerned would be willing to look into such a request.

Expose Scams: Enough Unverified Allegations!

Is it any surprise then that people can make allegations about some area being in the Elephant Corridor, and get away with these allegations even when they are not true? I find it hard to believe that those making the accusations are not aware of the fact that there are no Elephant Corridors in Coimbatore district and that the proposed corridors are nowhere near Isha Yoga Center. If the appropriate material was easily available online, the veracity of these claims could easily be checked and dismissed. But when this is not the case, the public is easily beguiled into believing all sorts of nonsense.

At least the journalists should take it upon themselves to check such allegations out before printing news. This is in fact one of the guidelines issued by the Press Council of India – that investigative journalists should verify all facts before publishing. Facts, facts and facts are of paramount importance it dictates. But who cares about ethics and guidelines in these days of crass commercialism! It is especially odd when you consider that Sadhguru’s environmental initiative Project GreenHands has planted 3 crore trees in Tamil Nadu & South India.

About Elephant Corridors in general

Elephant Corridors are absolutely essential in today’s situation. With India topping 1.3 billion people, there is little space for wildlife. Expecting the human population to suddenly plummet is unrealistic, and where there are people, they will need space to live. In such a situation, the only long-term solution is to work towards reducing human numbers by spreading awareness about our collective responsibility, birth control etc. A lot has been said about that by people better qualified than I, so I will not belabor that point. But in the short-term, wildlife will only survive if we ensure viable animal populations, and wildlife corridors are an important element of that.

The Nilgiri mountain range is especially important for elephants because it has one of the more robust elephant populations in India. Ensuring that these population intermingle and exchange genetic material is very important. In such a scenario, it is extremely important that the appropriate government departments publish all material related to these elephant corridors, habitats etc in easily accessible websites & news media, so that the public can be better informed as to what is legal and what is not. If that is not done, then criminal elements may take advantage of the situation to cheat or blacken the face of individuals and organisations. That is highly detrimental to society.

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